Monday, 27 July 2015

The Hunter by Joe Sparrow: to be a bad man [review]

The Hunter by Joe Sparrow, published by Nobrow

You know how it goes: you're a rich dude, you throw a party to impress your fellow rich brethren, but instead of paying attention to you, it's that smooth fellow with the shiny hair and dainty hands they all clamour around. So being the fourth Earl of Reisenskog you do what anyone in  your position would do: announce  a vow to kill one of every creature alive. It's a bold statement; one grandiose enough to befit the earl's stature and sense of importance. But Joe Sparrow's tale isn't one of a man bent on completing a seemingly insurmountable task, but more a parable on what people choose and allow to define themselves, and how that impacts on who and what they become.

The Earl develops a taste for hunting and killing after his father takes him out on his first shoot at the age of 12; hunting and killing is a pursuit seemingly encouraged and nurtured in him from a young age and something he's good at. There's no believing you take on the qualities of the animals you killed for him -more so if you eat them, they are just things to be conquered and displayed. And so, a decade after swearing his  relentlessly driven, blood-soaked oath, the Earl finds his walls heave and creak with the weight of mounted prey from every nook and cranny of the land: 'The world was caught, killed, classified, and conquered, down the sights of a hunting rifle.' And he throws another party to celebrate, one that in the tradition of Macbeth, raises ghosts and truths. Here, he finally realises he is alone; alone and empty in his castle after meaninglessly affirming his dominion over every creature that walked the earth. Yet The Hunter isn't the story of the comeuppance of a bad man, either. Instead Sparrow slants it as an exploration of a man who is a certain way through upbringing and external conditioning, yes, but also through choice and inaction -apathy, and  looking at where that leads him, to the point of whether he's repentant or not, and why, that too, may be.


The Earl is jealous and resentful of people who appear loved and lauded for their easy manners and nobler pursuits of literature and the arts, but he himself doesn't make any effort towards self development, via engagement in other interests or people. It brings to mind this apt passage from The Social Network; people may or may not dislike the Earl due to his extreme hunting and enjoyment of killing things, but they definitely dislike him because he's insular and creepy. They dislike him because he's cruel and because he's never shown interest in anyone other than himself. He doesn't learn or grow, and views others behaviour towards him as their inadequacy. And he has taken this polite but deliberate shunning to defiantly hone the very thing that has contributed to it, defining himself through hunting and killing. Personhood is environmental and influential, but there is always choice in the actions you choose to take, the traits you decide to nurture; you become the sum of what you choose to cultivate and do.

The Hunter is notable for its pixellated art- applied to lines, lettering, textures, and all. It evokes an early 8-bit rpg game feel over proceedings, and though it takes a while to adjust to, and may sound gimicky, it works. It works really, really well. The graphics and stylisation help draw parallels with the game/game theme: kill and collect the list of following creatures and contribute in transporting the story to a more level. The jagged line and ye old time fantasy setting, coupled with the earl's nefarious villainy,  imparts a dramatic, sinister cloak to events that a more clean and sure line would perhaps not equally suggest. It infers glitchiness, a sense of wrong, leading one to wonder when it will skew and pull back into place. The slightly jagged lines disrupts; allowing for pause, gaps in between movement, a slowing down that causes the reader to look and read closer, make more of things. Sparrow uses shadow adeptly to thrust atmosphere and tension into the mix and an array of colours that are never boring. The Hunter manages to be both an attractive and interesting book, in terms of visual appeal.

Nobrow's 17x23 series of comics have been hugely impressive this year, and of consistently high quality. The line has been fulfilling its remit of providing a platform to very good cartoonists who you are more likely not to have heard of, and for whom these books often act as their first published major work. For readers interested in discovering or reading comics from fresh, up-and coming cartoonists it's a slate that is proving bountiful in 2015, with Jen Lee's Vacancy, William Exley's Golemchik, and Wren McDonald's Cyber Realm all proving excellent reads. The Hunter continues that trend.


Spotlight on: Mathilde Vangheluwe



I often share Belgian illustrator and cartoonist Mathilde Vangheluwe's art and comics via Twitter and Facebook, but don't think I have ever written about it, so I thought I would attempt to collate something a bit more concrete to pen and paper (such as it is)- to hopefully draw attention to how fantastic she is. Vangheluwe co-founded illustration and comics collective Tieten Met Haar, and her work won her a first prize at Switzerland's Fumetto Comix festival in 2011. I started following her on Tumblr late last year; while her graphite work and style are what initially caught my eye, my appreciation was helped along by her working in English in addition to (what I assume is) Dutch. I ordered a couple of zines via her online shop: Maybe A Little Fresher, and Mouse Scroll. The former is a collection of single and double page illustrations and cartoons on the 'funny and tough life of being an illustrator!' which those in similar fields will no doubt find an affinity for. The latter is a book of tall, vertical comic strips (I like this shift in format- I haven't seen it employed much before) that focus more on diary/auto-bio events.

I have increasingly found that the universality of experience is a deceptive misnomer; one of the problems I regularly encounter with auto-bio comics is the presentation of insular experiences as manifest, which makes it difficult to find a point of relation or entry (I encounter this with regards to race and gender a lot). The more successful auto-bio comics use humour and elements of fiction or fantasy to broaden that framing, and move beyond focusing on the ownership of experience, to deploying the discussion in a wider emotional and applicable context. Vangheluwe's strips have sense of humour and outlook that is very approachable: self-aware, observant, open to poking fun at herself, smart, slightly caustic and sharp, but confident, too.

Many of the strips see her interacting with friends, talking about getting colds (Vangheluwe secretly enjoys the opportunity to cosy up in a blanket, eat, and watch TV), how their work is going (or not going), everyday principles and hypocrisy. She imbues a sense of faux-drama and exaggeration to events, each strip offering a little, episodic narrative; emphasis provided  by motion lines, expressions, and scripted title fonts -'Mathilde in the Blog Paradox,' 'Mathilde vs the Cold,' Mathilde in Get It Right'- introducing her continuing adventures. It's reminiscent of a quick traditional TV sketch-skit structure: one of her friends, Nico, is very forthright and brash, and every time he strikes, Vangheluwe uses a panel in which his floating, grinning head appears on a black background, with 'Offensive Nico' written in scrolls unfurling above and below it, to close the strip. The accompanying 'badum tish' and canned laughter sounds itself.

What makes Vangheluwe's work all the more appealing are her pencils (she uses other mediums, but this is the main one). It's very distinct and hard, with a marked precision that's bent into the page, and she manages to tease so much out of it. It feels more close and immediate, and the smudginess lends it further personality- a lot of graphite work in comics is deliberately distancing, with a sense of stillness: the density and grey blacks specifically chosen for that effect, but not here. Vangheluwe is good with textures but where she really shines is drawing people. Her differentiation and consideration towards clothes, bodies, and particularly features and faces is lovely to see: freckles, plump apple cheeks, rosy red blotches, a range of hair styles and eye shapes. It gives her figures such life, in body language and fleshing them out to the reader, however brief their appearance. How many of the people you see in comics leave you with an impression from look alone? Her work is set apart by this attention she pays to all its aspects: little things that may be easy to do but are time consuming, like thought bubbles filled with an inky black background, anger and exasperation cloud puffs, a variety of title fonts, which makes it a joy to come across.

You can find Vangheluwe's Tumblr here, which collects quite a bit of the work in these books, but a few favourite comics and illustrations I'd like to point you towards:




Friday, 24 July 2015

An interview with Dargaud editor, Thomas Ragon: 'I’m the first reader, and the first publicist'

However you view Twitter (and by extension, social media), two of its foremost purposes for me is it's ability to share my writing and thoughts on comics, and to likewise gain information from others doing so. In that regard, Thomas Ragon, editor of French comics publisher Dargaud, does a superb job as ambassador and imparter of salient comics knowledge. As someone who (lazily) only speaks a 2 and a half languages and none of them French, the accessibility of his account is very much appreciated, and always useful in keeping up with the both the classic and new in Franco-Belgian comics. It may seem an obvious -although certainly not incumbent- facet for an editor to utilise, but Ragon is actually one of the very few to do so. I know, too, he is open and generous with his time for any enquiries -not just from me, but many others, too, and I find this position he's carved himself a little unique.  I thought he would make a worthwhile and interesting interview subject, and the results are produced below for you perusal and enjoyment.

You can follow his excellent Twitter here.

A rather standard, boring question, but it's one I like to ask as an entry-point, and because I think answers can vary depending on where you live, circumstances etc. How and when did you become interested in comics, as a reader, and then as a field to work in?
As a reader, I never became interested in comics, I was born with them. My father was a reader of Spirou and Tintin magazines as a child, and he subscribed to both, again, for my brother and I, when I was, 4, 5 years old ? And like in most French homes, we had some Asterix, Tintin, Spirou books. Actually, there were maybe more comics than in the average French home. I used to read the old Spirou magazines from my father’s childhood, from the 50’s, and he also had some Gotlib, Druillet, Blueberry books as well… I was a huge fan of Tintin, and Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats), and Alix, too. So, it’s always been natural to me, reading comics. And I would read a lot of them until my 10th year when I completely stopped. I started to be into history, a lot, from that time on. I started reading 'serious' books only, literature, science... And music.

In my college (lycée) in Grenoble, a friend was into comics, and he made me looking at them again. It was 1986/1987. I really dove into it. And I've never stopped ever since. I even decided to write my Politics School master dissertation on comics. Which was not really… hum, expected, nor encouraged by the professors… That’s where I thought I could work 'in comics.' Even though I didn’t really know what kind of jobs there were in publishing -actually I didn’t know anyhing about publishing. I was more like "I don’t want to wear a suit and a tie, I don’t want to have a pressure from money, let’s try music or comics," ha ha ! No pressure from money… I became friend with a comics bookshop in Grenoble around my 18, I would spend a lot of time – and money – with them, then I started to work in another comics bookshop on vacations, Christmas period, replacement, etc. And I joined the organization of a festival in Grenoble, too. And I eventually became a trainee in Paris, for a small publisher, then for Delcourt, where I stayed six months. After this, I worked one full year in a comics bookshop in Paris (a difficult year  – I had made long studies, my parents were supportive, but very anxious I think, when I was leaving on the minimum wage in Paris with nothing coming and looking like a real job, i.e. well paid). Then Guy Delcourt hired me, and some few years later I realized I was an editor.

So, it’s not a real decision I made, it all came naturally if not easily. I mean, there are no schools for becoming an editor, and if there would, those schools would probably not propose anything related with comics – I’m talking of the early 1990’s here.

What is your official position at Dargaud?
The official words are 'directeur de collection.' Something between editor and publisher – I never really quite understood the difference in English. I chose projects, I negotiate the conditions and terms of the contract, but I don’t sign the contract.

What do your duties/responsibilities involve?
They involve a lot of things, I guess. First off, it’s deciding – after discussions with my colleagues editors – what books the company will publish. Here, it’s a mix of discussing with authors already published by Dargaud about their next projects, looking for newcomers, and considering submissions. After that, I think about, talk, propose, decide different things about the story, art, how many pages/books, production settings, etc. of the books. Then, negotiating the contracts. Once the contracts are signed, begins the road to the releasing of the book, and I can intervene in a lot of different fields. I’m the one everybody in the company is asking "what do you think?" and "yes/no." Marketing, diffusion, production, layout, PR, etc. I’m supposed to be the first, main interlocutor with the artists.

Being in that position in a big company like Dargaud is comfortable. It’s reasonably understaffed, it’s serious business, there is a long history behind, hence a lot of savoir-faire. My job really is, too, to explain the projects, inside the company, to the different departments, and outside the company. I can talk to journalists, to bookshops, to institutions, to festivals, to other publishers. I’m the first reader, and the first publicist. My job it to try to make the best books possible, and to promote them as much as possible.

Thomas' office at Darguad

How would you describe a typical day at the office (if you go to one)?
Yes, I go to an office everyday. Being physically present is important, I think. I’m an 'in-house' editor, being a freelancer probably is interesting, but I don’t think you have the same weight on the company’s decisions or absence of decisions. Anyway…

I would say my typical day is being interrupted in what I’m doing every minute by requests. Or two minutes when it’s quiet. This is awesome, and it’s unbearable at the same time ! Being able to read something that needs more than 10 minutes can be very difficult. Arriving in the morning, I guess like everybody in this western service world, I read emails. I may have a meeting – marketing, sales, graphic studio, author – in the morning or afternoon. I get my 5/10 new submissions that I swear to myself I’ll read very soon ; then phone calls with artists ; reading proof or different steps of a book ; reading one submission because the author just sent an email again saying it’s already four/five/six weeks he sent it ; another meeting ; maybe a lunch with an author talking about the book in the process or about a project ; more time with the graphic designers trying things, deciding about a cover, any layout issues ; approving corrections on a text ; writing promotional texts for sales meetings ; reading a comic book or reading things on the internet ; travelling to a remote place for a big sales meeting with all the representatives of the company… And thinking about what you haven’t done yesterday that you should do today.

I've always been curious: as an editor selecting work for publication -often new work- how do your tastes and a notion of objectivity interact? Are there situations when a work may not be to your personal taste, but you recognise its good, or think it will do well?

There definitely are situations when a work is not really my personal taste, but where I recognise at least one or two qualities, ha ha ! It has to be a minimum of my taste. A big minimum… It can be an intention, a subject, only art, only story, but – and maybe I'm fooling myself – I tend to think it doesn't occur that much. It's not my company, my name is not printed on the cover, I owe a salary to my employer, so there's a kind of a tacit agreement at the very beginning. They hired me because of what I had done before, a certain kind of books, and I'm supposed to let them make some money at some point. As I've been lucky enough to be working for serious companies in publishing, they don't expect every title to be profitable. They would prefer to, of course. There's a balance to be found… And it's all the game we play, there's this tension between 'art' and 'business,' always. It's difficult to be certain on that subject. Let's suppose I get a submission from someone whom art is not my taste, my 'job' is to recognise if it's good, lame, incredible, weak, unique and either fit to a 'market' or is strong enough in absolute terms to exist. And we're rarely totally sure about this. Sometimes, yes, we immediately know that this one project might be unique and important. At the end there's the question of who you are publishing for? For yourself and the artist, or for the audience? My position today is halfway. Really. Or, more exactly, I do both. And mostly of the former. I want, and sometimes I can do it, to publish books that are a Proposition, where I'm not sure there is an audience for it, but I'm sure that this book must exist because it's good or new... And sometimes I select a book because I know there's an audience for it. But it's never that clear. In general, I'm really convinced by what I publish, at least when it's only me who selected it.

Now, my personal tastes are large. The editor in me is like the reader I am. I can read a quite simple crime novel and reread Karl Kraus the week after. I can enjoy a good sci-fi comics, and enjoy right after the most graphic zine… As long as it's… good ? And here, I guess my job is also to be, at the same time, very sure of my taste, and always doubting it. I have to be able to change or at least to accept new things… This sounds grandiloquent, I could as well say I don't know, that I just follow my feelings, project after project… Because sometimes you don't know why you like a project. And you construct arguments afterwards…

You seem to really love comics -correct me if I'm wrong!- and it's also your job. Does that ever become too much- having the thing you enjoy become routine? Do you have periods where you're sick of everything comics?
I do love comics, yes ! I breathe comics. And the job never became a routine, really. I mean, my worst feelings about it, mainly, is the frustration that I can’t publish everything I’d like to. Or one problem here, one failure there. It’s a very exciting job, a stressful one, too. But no, I’m able to read comics at home after a day work. I kind of established a process to take care of my brain : I don’t read projects/submissions at home, I need to separate professional readings and personal readings. I’m a big reader, anyway, so it’s more like "this is for my pleasure, and this is for work." And sometimes pleasure and work meet. I may have periods where I can’t read comics out of the office, but so far it’s always been quite short periods of time. Three days? Ha. Now, it’s true that being constantly under a flow of requests of all types and sources is exhausting and I need to be unreachable, but it’s because of the job, not because of comics.

When I’m on vacation, one of the first thing I do is checking where are the bookshops, and go see books… Please call the nurse…

What's your favourite part of the job and one not-so-favourite part?
My favourite part is obviously the discussions we can have with an author about his/her work. When simply by talking, we help each other to clarify things, or decide that this direction is better than the other, or why drawing this is difficult, or how this image was built up, etc. A real in-depth discussion about the work, that’s the best. And it’s rare, because of what I said about my typical day above. And because of our different positions, it can never occur. It’s all about subjectivity, and a relationship, it’s not depending on liking or not a person, but sometimes things dont’ get right. There are some many different factors.

I would say my not-so-favourite part is dealing with the endless frustration on the long term. Our job implies a lot of frustrations, and I’m OK with that, I know it can’t be different: I never have enough time - the perfect book does not exist, it always could have been better - sales are never good enough - critics are out of the point or too rare - the author is too slow, too quick - etc.

No, let’s say my not-so-favourite part is that too many people – in the business - think that publishing a book is easy. That you just have to push on a button, and that’s it.

By Alexandre Clérisse

When I asked you if you'd be interested in doing this interview, I said I found your placement as a comics figure interesting. I'd guess that for many people, like me, you're one of the few accessible people/points into Franco/Belgian comics on social media. You tweet in English and interact with people, and share work- what's the impetuous behind that (if there is a deliberate one)?

At the very beginning, I thought Twitter would allow me to be in touch with my English-speaking comics friends on a more regular basis and a less engaging one. I mean, when it comes to informal, short news about what we’re doing, what we’ve seen and liked, that’s perfect. I wouldn’t write an email for saying "Hi, look at what’s new and interesting." Plus, I’ve always been interested in American comics, it’s been a big part of my activity as an editor, from the beginning, and I thought that it could be interesting to try to send information the other way. Later, I realized there were some people from all around the world, not only the UK and the USA, who were interested in getting images/information about bande dessinée… And I can’t hide the fact that I believe our future will consist in more international interactions between publishers and authors, and it’s a way to contact, be informed about works, books, authors, and a soft promotion tool (I try not to use it too much for that). As for interaction with people, I try my best, but I don’t have too much time, but I really like talking with people…

If you could improve 3 areas/issues in comics, what would they be?
Here in France, it would be the manner of relationships with the universities. Compared to Belgium, USA or Italy, it’s a shame that French academics are ignoring comics. There only are a very few exceptions to that landscape.

Second point : socially speaking, the artists were, in the 60/70’s, mainly from the working class or lower middle class. And we’re kind of losing that, and that’s a pity. I’d like to allow young artists from what we call 'the suburbs' to express and tell things that the country needs to hear or at least be exposed to.

Third: That may sound weird coming from a 'mainstream' editor, but I’m kind of scared how difficult it is to get people interested in non-strictly scenario-driven books. Like a lot of people, I loved the Golden Age of TV shows, HBO thing, but added to Hollywood’s marketed and over script-doctored movies, there’s no room for poetry, for evocation, for stories where the reader has to fill himself some unresolved parts anymore. I call that the 'dictatorship of scenario.' It’s interesting to see a lot of people saying « what does he mean ? I didn’t understand everything », we’re supposed to have crystal clear scripts, as linear as possible stories, every time, for everything. That’s embarrassing, it’s the twenty first century, after all… And I’m not talking of super cryptic things. Just having the choice between different possibilities to understand a story, to make it ours, to have room, to get loose… I guess 2015 is not about being loose…

About not having more 'open to interpretation' work, I find that quite a bit of that exists in self-published, art/alt, or what is termed 'indie' comics, particular in Canada and North America, which I think has historically been the case. Is there anything similar in scene in France, currently? Or are you expressing a desire for more of a chance to be taken on such works by publishers?

Yes, you're right, that was not clear enough. I was thinking of 'large audience' or publications by, let's call them 'mainstream' publishers. If we look at Dargaud's history only, Druillet was not exactly the typical Hollywoodian storyteller, Fred with Philémon and other titles was into poetry, etc. What I said was expressing a desire for more of such works by 'big' publishers. Actually, we try. In fact, I'm tired of hearing "Blutch is a great artist, but I don't understand anything of his story". What I hear here is "I don't want to interpret what he says by myself, he should take me by the hand and explain every tiny bit". That's not possible. We're going to suffocate, to dry ourselves out, we need air, we need to use our imagination.

There is a similar scene in France of art/alt comics, of course. And a strong and lively one. And there are a lot of very good books there. You see that I'm in a position, we say in French "having the butt between two chairs". And it's good. Uncomfortable but really good. And I'm not looking for very difficult books necessarily, very difficult, it's for alt/art publishers. I was thinking of something a bit difficult, or demanding, aimed to a large audience, if not 'everybody.'

By André Franquin


I'm a big fan of various French and European comics and authors, and as someone who prefers print while I'm grateful for what does get translated, it makes me a little sad that historically they haven't done well in North America/Canada and the UK. Why do you think this is?

There certainly is a various number of reasons. And let me be clear that I don't want to denigrate or lecture or anything, we all have our own priorities, weaknesses, lacks, and as far as I know, I might be completely wrong - but you are asking! Comics business is around 12% of the publishing industry in France when it's only 3% in the US. If you take the Big Two out, what's left? And obviously, although those Big Two tried something at some point, European comics do not really fit with super hero comics. It's completely different. This is of course very important, because the structures of the business, commercialization, promotion, etc. everything is shaped by the dominant trends, which were not, for decades, author-driven, or non-super heroic. So we, Europeans, had to deal with smaller companies, less powerful, with a more fragile economy, and, furthermore, with slightly different lines than ours. And you have the fact that North America doesn't really have the culture of translating anything. It's the same for cinema, it's the same – and even worse – with literature. But you also have the problem of our formats that can sometimes be very difficult to reduce to the usual US formats. And you have the fact – and it's a very important one – that very few people in comics industry in North America can read French, or Italian. The late Kim Thompson was maybe the only one for too long. Mark Siegel is in charge now, and we could see that it makes a real difference. We're guilty too, maybe we didn't pay enough attention to letting our books be accessible in English (but, you know, we sell rights all over the world without having to translate for each country, so…). And because the big properties like Tintin or Asterix were sold to publishers that didn't have any interest in comics as an art form, or didn't want to develop a line… And if we compare our situation to Manga, we never had the power that Japanese have with the animation, broadcast on TV for years. Which, here at least, helped them a hell of a lot.

At the end, it's also a question of us all staying in our comfort zone. Publishers, journalists, readers, retailers, etc. We have to build bridges across the pond or the Channel, more bridges of all kinds, not only commercial ways.  And obviously, the Internet has helped to build some.

I feel like things are changing, maybe not so slowly. "Blacksad" is a success, it's been rewarded several times to the Eisners or Harveys, "Persepolis" was a hit, "Beautiful Darkness" was quite noticed, and hopefully, other books could succeed, which always helps a lot when you try to convince publishers… And we try to break into these markets, with other, new tools… This leading us to your next question…

Dargaud and others have recently announced the Europe Comics digital initiative, launching later this year. Can you tell us a bit more about what it will involve- is the focus on making existing catalogues available in English; producing new work specifically tailored to the digital format; and there is also mention of developing animated series and live events!
There will be a new specific announcement with titles and names in the next 3/4 weeks, so I can't give any now. But, it's a been a long process and a first time on at least two levels. First: the European Union is funding an ambitious program concerning comics only. Second: 13 European companies are joining into this "coalition" to have a digital comics publishing AND information platform. You'll have works published in English on the same day than in their first language. There should be exclusive content for the digital releases, such as covers, illustrations… For the moment, it doesn't seem like there is any specifically digital native comics, but who knows what the publishers involved would like to do here in the future…

One of the thing considered, is having readers propose themselves what titles they would like to read, to create a dialogue with them. As for the catalogue, if I can't give any details yet, it will be a selection of mainstream action/adventure series, graphic novel and children's comics. Being funded by the European Union allows to be able to organize some events around comics and the catalogue: there is an extensive programme of author tours, both across Europe and the US, so as to bring European authors closer to the European and American audiences. And it's also aimed to be a digital venue where one could find informations about European comics – events calendar, academic studies, history, etc. It's intended as an "export" device but also as a emulating tool within the European borders. It could be used as a market test for English-speaking publishers. Translations and files would be existing, it could become a real facilitator as to print publishing.

As for the animated side, they plan to develop three animated series in the next four years, based on characters from its more successful titles. That's why you have among the partners the first European animation producer: Ellipsanime.

Name 3 of your favourite cartoonists/artist/comic writers.
Well, that’s the dangerous question. I’ll pick people I’m not working with, or dead, even better, it’s too difficult, otherwise. Alberto Breccia. André Franquin. Winsor McCay. Of course, ask me tomorrow, and it’ll be different.

Which young comic creators are you impressed by?
Roman Muradov really impresses me. Alexandre Clérisse. Jon McNaught. Simon Roussin. Victor Hussenot. Probably more, that’s the names that come up right now. We’re living an incredible period of time, I think, in terms of creativity. I hope the infrastructures will be able to help them all making their way.

A comic, and a cola: Fridays are made of this

Something easy, breezy, and at once momentous for your Friday: a brief discussion of the delightful Coral Cave comic from artists Cecile Brun and Olivier Pichard, aka Atelier Sentô, before the blog's very first cola review. And if I may say so, I can't really think of a more suitable thing to do on a Friday than taking a moment to sit back with a good comic and a glass of cola with lemon and ice (no, the weather doesn't factor into this). To matters at hand, then: when I ordered The Coral Cave: An Irabucha's Dream, I noted that each comic ordered would contain an original watercolour sketch, and the due really didn't scrimp on that, with a full individual painting on the inside of each book cover, making it very special indeed. It couldn't have been an easy task either: time intensive and laborious; I saw on their Facebook page the amount of orders they'd received and how hard at work they were, but definitely the kind of thing that endears you to readers. 

An Irabucha's Dream is set in the universe of The Coral Cave, a handmade, watercolour-painted point and click adventure game created by Brun and Pichard, though this story is a stand alone. Mizuka is busy snorkelling when her friend Masao comes to find her. Reports abound of a 'ghost' creature stealing food -chocolate and worms!- and playing tricks, so Masao brings the problem to Mizuka, to share and discuss, but also because she's smart and determined and capable of investigating further and gleaning truth, and she responds to the task with adroit application. It reminds me quite a bit of R Kikuo Johnson's The Shark King (Toon Books), for it's cultural folk myth related to and of creatures of the sea, and its similarly delightfully illustrated and vibrantly coloured. Setting and environment help establish tone and atmosphere in any story, but here (as in The Shark King), the place, the background, the beauty and magic of it, combined with the precocious assertions of childhood, is central in acting as as a facilitator for events that occur. The warmth and appeal of the watercolours really aids that goal (clicking on the page images above will enlarge them). 

It's a charming little  folk-tale comic, with an ending that is quite beautiful and surreal in an unexpected way, and in Mizuka, Brun and Prichard have a characterful and engaging heroine, who I'd be happy to see more of. The only minor issue I had with this is the lettering. It seems to be a digital, rounded standardised font, which isn't horrible, but stands out more when it's apparent that such care has been taken in all other areas of production.



Moving onto historical happenstance now, my fellow writer-about-comics friend, Oliver Ristau kindly sent me a cola and coffee flavoured drink all the way from Germany to try out, post a Twitter conversation discussing the merits of various soda beverages. The general packaging and branding/appearance of this is as far away as the aesthetic of The Coral Cave that you could imagine: brown. It's a curious choice. I understand cola is brown, as too, is coffee, but combined with the logo and font and colour it takes on distinctly Orwellian undertones. It's the kind of drink and logo that you'd read about in a harsh dystopian novel written in the 1940's in which the dictatorial regime tries to convince people they know best and things are in fact okay, but our willfully deviant  protagonist knows better than to trust anyone who makes anything so brown -so BROWN- especially cola. That T.J. Eckleburg-esqe logo purports to show the likenesses of Mirco and Lorenz, founders of the Frittz Cola company (a rigidly hipster affair,  judging from the website). I have an intense dislike for all things coffee flavoured- cake, chocolate, coffee- but maybe, I thought, my love for cola would triumph here. I like that it comes in a glass, beer-like bottle which is good; cola out of glass bottles just tastes better- it's science. Original Frittz cola is flavoured (high caffeine count) like regular cola, this coffee iteration is a later development. Anyhow, it arrived, I popped it in the fridge for a couple of days and hoped that Oliver's deft packaging and the secure bottle top closing would be enough for it to retain its fizziness.

I think I hated it. It's later now that I'm writing this, and although I took some notes, I'm sure my brain has been hard at work attempting to erase all memory and associated senses of my drinking it forever. I thought it smelt nice, as long as I didn't smell it for too long. At first go, I didn't hate how it tasted. Which is a big deal because I abhor coffee as a flavour. The cola masks that to a degree initially, making it bearable and different, and I thought I might like it, but the taste sticks and gets stronger the more you drink, and by the time I'd imbibed down til the top of the label, I couldn't drink anymore. And then I did drink a little more, just to see if anything had changed. It hadn't. I still really, really sort of hated it. On a positive note, it does have a nice fizz level where you can't hear it popping off a mad symphony, a la Irn Bru, nor is it hugely foamy and up-your-nose alive like Pepsi, but it instigates little reassuring burps without being overwhelmingly acidic. But no, I would never ever drink it again. Ever. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man, 'ma,' and the deliberation of the active nothing


In an oft-narrated anecdote, the late American film critic Roger Ebert spoke of the time he first interviewed Japanese animator, director, and cultural icon Hayao Miyazaki. Ebert told Miyazaki he loved the 'the "gratuitous motion" in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.' "We have a word for that in Japanese," Miyazaki replied. "It’s called ma. Emptiness. It’s there intentionally.” 'He clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.'

It's a nice, quotable little story, as incidents involving Miyazaki habitually are, and it's one I was reminded of when reading Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man. In The Walking Man, Taniguchi's nameless protagonist is simply shown on a series of walks. Not hikes, per se, or walks specifically designated as such activity, but here he is on his way into the town, going to the woods, along the waterfront, to the baths, caught in the rain, climbing the hill to the temple. Taniguchi combines an iteration of ma in conjunction with an ambient, conflict-free narrative. His protagonist is depicted in relation to his environment and surroundings, his thoughts and feelings largely unknown and internalised (although it's via the man's outlook that the reader 'sees,' so indications as to response are ostensibly framed by his perception). The reader doesn't see him at home (every now and again a walk will see him departing from or returning home and conversing briefly with his wife), at work, interacting with friends, they're not privy to his fears or desires, his disappointments or triumphs, his troubles. They don't get to see him be good or bad, his nuances and habits; they just see him walk. What little the reader gleans about the man and his personality is gained here, through his walking.


The literal, English language definition of ma translates to various words such as gap, empty, distance, space, time, blankness. It's an aesthetic that manifests itself in various aspects of traditional Japanese culture, particularly Noh theater; consciousness of place between two defined or structural spaces. So while ma can be applied to anything from a comfortable silence to interior design, inherently it represents a mindset and approach; a space free of clutter and chaos that allows for an intensification or clarity of vision. The idea of sifting through things, to clear  a space in which to find what matters, what's essential, what's pure; the emptying of space gives greater significance to what is then placed within it. A focused minimalism and meaning. Where there is too much, nothing stands out, and things struggle for value and meaning. It could be a form of meditation, to clear the mind and focus on the self; its achievement and application extending to both the physical and spiritual.

And this is what we see applied to The Walking Man: the stripping back of the man's life from all else to present his version of ma.  The man's walks function beyond purpose: he takes pleasure in the act and the sights and experiences it affords him. It is the walks that provide him with the opportunity to leave all else and have these moments of quiet, of solitude, of reflection, of selfishness, and of nothing -devoid of intrusion. Nothing unremarkable or untoward occurs on the walks; they are ordinary but he uses them to looks, to slow down, to stops and observe, to be. As much as ideologies can sound complex and enforced, there is deliberation in the man's choice to make these walks a vehicle for ma, although there is an absence of rigour and tension, the pressure to do; a centering of non-action as the action. It's not a literal nothing, it's the paring back of action to an almost reductive extent, honing on one pure element, rather like Geof Darrow's most recent Shaolin Monk outing. Over 4 issues, the monk silently, unremittingly fought zombie hoardes for page after page after page; his one action focused to the point of becoming inactive, neutralised, almost. It becomes something new, something else.


So the man walks and sees and feels, and by proxy the reader too walks and sees and feels: a panel in which a jar of flowers are left on the side of the pavement on a bridge, a dragonfly mosaic embedded in colourful stones on the ground, ducks gathered in a pond, getting caught in a sudden soft snowfall. In one story he buys a balloon from a stall in the market and opens it right there, blowing it up, as passerbys giggle at the sight. In another he clambers up a tree to free a toy plane for some young boys and decides to stay there a while amongst the leaves and blossoms to take in the view. One of the most amusing and warm incidents occurs when he becomes involved in a 'walk-off' with a another, older man, each trying to out-do the other in pace, dodging traffic and people, before silently, smilingly coming together to walk side by side. His glasses break on one outing, the lens shattering, and he partakes in an almost childlike-enjoyment in taking them on and off at various intervals, reveling in the two new perspectives the event offers him: a blurry, hazy view minus the broken receptacles, and a shattered, kaleidoscopic one when he puts them on. Taniguchi delights in drawing both the soft, out-of-focus images and the fun, multi-fragmented illustrations.

If walking is the route to achieving ma, and the man its vessel, Taniguchi's clear, precise style is well-suited to portraying the crystallisation of the objective. There are few who exemplify neat, elegant beauty, and detail the minutiae of environment better. Like the walking man, the art too, seems to embody the possibility that ma offers: present and suggestive but shimmering, and Taniguchi and his protagonist fill it romance and hope; contentment and optimism. It's filled with good. Out of everything Taniguchi could choose to share about the man, he chooses this one thing. The small, solid strength of possibility. The possibility of good. Look, he says, look, and you will see how easy it can be.

  

Monday, 20 July 2015

Delcourt team up with comixology to offer digital-first French comics to English-language market





















Some news I've been watching with interest is French comics publisher Delcourt signing a deal with leading digital comics platform, comixology, to being their comics to the English-language market. Delcourt, the largest independent graphic novel publisher in France, have been offering French-language comics on comixology since 2013, but this new venture will see a range of select French comics translated into English as part of a digital-first line. The move will involve the publication of over 150 titles over the next 12 months, beginning with the following 6 books:

  • The Curse of the Wendigo, written by Mathieu Missoffe and illustrated by Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard
  • Josephine by Pénélope Bagieu, 
  • Prométhée  by Christopher Bec
  • Iron Squad by Jean-Luc Sala and Ronan Toulhoat
  • Spin Angels by Jean-Luc Sala and Pierre-Mony Chan
  • Come Prima  by Alfred, winner of the Prix du Meilleur Album at Angoulême 2014

Whilst Alfred's graphic novel Coma Prima has been released in full, the other titles will be split into 23-page installments to mirror the American serialised comic format. It's a model that will be repeated going forward: each month will see the publication of a complete graphic novel and installments of 6 or so ongoing monthly titles. When a title comes to and end, a new batch will begin serialisation, and so forth. In an interview with Brigid Alverson on Comic Book Resources, Guy Delcourt discussed the decisions and process in selecting titles that they think will appeal to American audiences, 'We concentrated on two lines, one more like entertainment, science fiction, thrillers, fantasy, etc. -- we have an abundance of those -- and on the other side, graphic novels aimed at a mature audience. We were able to correspond to the way U.S. publishers present their books by splitting every 48-page album into two comics of 23 pages, so it is more compatible with the way Americans read.'

Delcourt also talked about print Euro translations traditionally struggling to find a foothold in the North American market due to the differences in format, and how digital overcomes that barrier:

'The market share of digital comics in the U.S. is much bigger than France, and I think it has always been difficult for print comics coming from France to the U.S. to reach an audience because of the format. It's not a comic-size format, it's album size, so in comic shops it has been difficult for these comics to be visible, because they didn't fit into the racks. There are probably other reasons, but the first reason is that. Digital allows us to go beyond that problem because on an iPad you cannot really see the format difference, or at least it is not as visible. It makes the difference much smaller. I think it gives the comics a better chance of being read, because in terms of style, of stories, of artwork, a lot of these comics match the tastes of the U.S. public. I'm not saying all of them will reach a big audience, but I see a chance.'

I'll always prefer reading in print, not only as someone who wants to keep screen-time to a minimum due to being shortsighted and suffering from migraines, but because I think comics and art, in particular is supposed to be experienced that way -or is better experienced that way, though there's the argument that the whole point of digital comics is evolution. Regardless of personal preference, this seems like an obvious and natural move in the way that smart decisions often do. The digital comics market is accessible and fast growing, so it's potential ability to reach new audiences beyond those that are already invested in European comics seems like the way to go. Not only is digital cheaper than print for both publisher and reader on a book-to-book basis, Delcourt going direct with comixology allows them the reach of comixology's widely established brand, to retain control over their properties, whilst leaving with them with the option to take to print any titles that prove popular. In the extreme positive long-term, an establishment of familiarity with readers could even help with awareness and marketing of print editions. It'll be interesting to see how it pans out, but for readers right now, it's definitely a good thing. For a bit of further information, Tom Spurgeon also conducted an interview with Guy Delcourt, which is a quick and salient read.

A new Blutch art-book: A View of the Lake [preview]


I've long believed that the strenuousness and stretch of both Mondays and Fridays should be helped along with the soothing effect of good news and good art if and when possible. So I'm feeling pretty chuffed about being able to facilitate just that by sharing a first look at a bundle of pages from Blutch's new, upcoming art-book, 'Vue sur le Lac' -A View of the Lake. The French cartoonists's name may or may not be familiar to you; he's a long-standing and widely revered member of the French comics community, where he's regarded as one of the most influential and important artists of his generation, and has been publishing work such as Peplum, Mitchum, Le Petit Christian, and more, since 1988. Blutch (real name Christian Hincker) was awarded the Grand Prix at Angouleme in 2009, but very little of his work has been translated into English. In 2013, Picturebox released the now out-of-print So Long, Silver Screen, the first full length book of Blutch's to be published in English. Resplendent with his lush painted brushwork, the book blurs anecdote and non-fiction/quasi auto-bio reportage to present a look at the impact of the cinema Blutch loved and grew up with. More recently, his volume of the almost-obligatory French cartoonist contribution to Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar's Dungeon series, Dungeon Monstres: My Son the Killer, was translated to English this year, and it seems Peplum, his adaptation of the Satyricon, may soon follow.

It's nice then, to have anything new of Blutch's available to peruse, and that it's an art-book -the first of its kind from the cartoonist- makes it accessible to new and old readers alike.  As much as people buy art-books because they're already invested and a fan of a particular artist, they can serve very well as an introduction to their body of work. Due to be published by Darguad on the 28th of August, A View of the Lake is an 184-page collection of carefully selected editorial illustrations (from publications such as Le Figaro and Libération), drawings, posters, pages from sketchbooks, and even a few comic books extracts: 'As Blutch's first non-narrative book, Vue sur le Lac gives a stunning panorama of this author's talent.' Like Gipi's artbook from Comic Out, Darguad have put this together with an international audience in mind: the accompanying text will be in three languages, French, German, and English, with translations by Volker Zimmermann and Matt Madden respectively. You will be able to order it directly from Darguad's site here, but for now, feast your eyes on this 14-page excerpt of what to expect from the exceptional French cartoonist. 

With thanks to Thomas Ragon for arranging the preview.





Sunday, 19 July 2015

Breakdown Press announce further guests for second Safari Festival


Last year saw British comics imprint Breakdown Press launch their own free-to-attend comics festival, Safari. Intended to be a showcase for the new wave of alternative and art comics in the UK and beyond, the festival returns this August, taking place on Saturday the 22nd, from 11am - 6pm at the Protein Gallery in Shoreditch, London (the same location as last year). The festival is curated by Breakdown Press, who aim to present a group of the very best cartoonists, printmakers and publishers the UK has to offer; those with an 'innovative, fearless, diverse approaches to making comics,' -approaches Safari hopes to champion whilst providing attendees the opportunity to experience the quality and range of UK alt comics.

This year’s exhibitors include: Anti Ghost Studio (Babak Ganjei, Rob Flowers, Tim Stevens), Breakdown Press (Joe Kessler,Antoine Cossé, Richard Short, Zoë Taylor), Calm & Collected Studio, Comic Book Slumber Party, Comics Workbook (Will Tempest, Liam Cobb, Tom Kemp), Decadence Comics (Lando, Stathis Tsemberlidis), Donya Todd, Eleni Kalorkoti, Esther McManus, Eyeball Comix, Famicon Express (Leon Sadler, Stefan Sadler, Jon Chandler), Faye Coral Johnson, Good Press, Grace Wilson, Isaac Lenkiewicz, James Jarvis, Jazz Dad Books, Joseph P Kelly, Kus!, Landfill Editions, Laura Callaghan, Marijpol, Matt Swan, Mike Redmond, Mothership, Nous Vous, One Beat Zines, Otto Press, Sina Sparrow, Treasure Fleet (Aisha Franz, Sharmila Banerjee),  and Will Sweeney.

And I'm pleased to share for the first time further guests who will also be in attendance: Shaky Kane, Becca Tobin, Crumb Cabin, Grafik, Marie Jacotey, Simon Moreton,  Retrofit Comics (represented by Simon Moreton, also in attendance will be Jack Teagle and Antoine Cosse), Belly Kids, Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives, Arts Emergency, and DIY Space for London. That's a very strong line-up, with more than plenty to engage and interest.

I'm pretty gutted about not being able to make it down, but the train tickets from Leeds to London are simply too expensive to afford, especially coming on top of TCAF and ELCAF in succession. Safari sounds like exactly the kind of more alternative and avant garde comics-focused festival I've been hoping to see in the UK, now that we have a healthy number of events dotted around the country- and it's free to attend, as well. Last year's event was a success from the various reports I read, and I hope that continues- if only so I can make it down in 2016! You can keep abreast of any further announcements and details via the Safari Festival website.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Ubisoft and Disney to release new Gravity Falls game, 'Legend of the Gnome Gemulets' on Nintendo 3DS


Coming off hiatus quickly to write about something that isn't even comics related! But hopefully still of interest. If you follow me on Twitter or have liked the blog's Facebook page, you know I'm a big fan of Alex Hirsch's Gravity Falls. I wrote a little bit about why in this post taking a look at some of the Gravity Falls toy figures Jazware released, which I'm going to quote here: 

'Gravity Falls brings together a lot of elements that appeal to me: the mystery of the week, the spooky going ons, the general X-Files vibe (in the theme tune- it's not just me right?), combined with the familial core of the story- Mabel and Dipper's relationship with one another, and their Grunkle (great uncle) Stan (as someone who comes from a big, close family it's very recognisable). On top of that you have the larger, long-running narrative of play -what makes Gravity Falls such a hub of weird? Who wrote those diaries?- with some truly unforgettable characters -how good a villain is Li'l Gideon?- and standout, fun episodes: Fight Fighters, Boyz Crazy, and more. It treats all its characters with care and respect, too- they may be funny or flawed or contemptible, but they're all so well realised that it's easy to empathise with each on some level. Ostensibly, the show is about growing up- Mabel and Dipper are on the cusp of teenager-hood, on their summer holidays -perhaps the last they may want to spend together, or at their great uncle's house/cabin-, and this last special time where they still believe in monsters and magic and wonder, or before their bond loosens, is captured here. Also it has Neil deGrasse Tyson as a super intelligent talking pig.'

So I'm pretty excited about the news that Disney have teamed up with game publisher Ubisoft for a new Gravity Falls game for Nintendo 3DS. Announced on the official Ubisoft Blog, and titled 'Gravity Falls: Legend of the Gnome Gemulets,' the game will be a 2D side-scroller, featuring an original story that sees the twins enlisted to find stolen gnome artifacts. Developed with the direct involvement of the show’s creator, Alex Hirsch, players can choose and switch between Mabel and Dipper, both of whom have been given an array of new abilities to best fight the assortment of monsters they'll be facing, solve puzzles and get ahead. Mabel's trusty grappling hook will allow her to reach high places, and she can also take on enemies in long-range combat with her Fleece of Bedazzlement-enhanced sweater sleeves. Dipper can take care of any threats at close-range with his Gnome Battle Cuffs and can search for clues using his trusted flashlight. I'm pleased to hear that the game will be all-ages -as much as I enjoy it- this is a cartoon for children, so it makes sense the game is similarly pitched at that demographic, and this looks like a lot of fun. 

You can watch a teaser trailer for Gravity Falls: Legend of the Gnome Gemulets below, which looks like it will include appearances from regular show characters such as Gruncle Stan, Soos, and Wendy. I'm personally hoping for a level in which players have to smackdown/defeat Lil Gideon, but I like the look of it very much. I sold my Nintendo DS a while back because it just wasn't getting enough use for me to justify having it around, so I guess I'm in the market for one again now, before the game releases this autumn. Apologies if I got any technical details wrong in this article- I'm not familiar with games at all.


(via Ubisoft)

Monday, 13 July 2015

A week off

I read someone once laughing about bloggers announcing breaks because nobody gives a shit, which may be very, very true. But I like to give a heads up anyhow, for anyone that does wonder why there's not new articles publishing and because it's just how I'm made: it's considerate and orderly. Anyway it's the last few days of Ramadhan this week, to be followed by Eid, so service will resume on Monday the 20th. It's barely a week- you'll be fine :) If you're looking for comics things to do, I still stand by this list 100%.